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Anita Hill Calls on Candidates to Address Gender Violence

October 22, 2019, 6:06 PM UTC

The Presidential primary season is well underway but so far the words “gender violence” have been absent from the debates and candidates’ speeches, said Anita Hill on Tuesday at Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women’s Summit in Washington, D.C.

According to Hill, who famously testified about sexual harassment during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, addressing gender violence will produce a ripple effect and lead to a broader public discussion on topics like equal pay or maternal leave policy. She urged voters to raise the topic in upcoming town halls with presidential candidates.

The remarks by Hill, who is known today as an academic and feminist icon, came during an interview with Fortune moderator Ellen McGirt that touched on larger issues of race, gender and power in the U.S.

This included a discussion on family separation that Hill noted has roots in U.S. policy, including during the era of slavery and in the government’s treatment of Native Americans.

“We hear the term ‘family separation,’ and we don’t have the context to put it in,” she said. “It needs to to be put in historical context.”

Hill observed that family separation has historically been used to dehumanize individuals and to take away their cultural roots in order to subordinate them to a class that is wealthier and white.

Today, she said, family separation is being used to shape political identities in the U.S., and declare who belongs in the country—a practice that is not just immoral but misguided.

“It’s not just a human rights violation. It’s just bad policy as we don’t know the long term impact,” she said.

Hill also shared her perceptions of the recent confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, which featured contentious allegations about sexual misconduct.

She described a sense of “profound sadness and disappointment” upon realizing that many people concluded that the U.S. had not made any progress on sexual harassment since she testified 28 years ago—a conclusion she said is not correct, but that means women will have to redouble their efforts to ensure their voices are heard.

“There’s an incredible amount of power in using one’s voice,” Hill said, adding that women are better at communicating with one another than men, and that doing so produces a deeper sense of understanding and humanity.

More must-read stories from Fortune’s MPW Summit:

—How a corporate board can engage on company culture
—Female directors agree a “blunt instrument is necessary” to get women on boards
Susan Rice calls Trump “erratic and untruthful” and recounts Benghazi fallout
—Peloton’s CFO has “so much sympathy” for WeWork
—Social purpose is imperative for competitive hiring today, executives say
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